The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
National Wildlife Refuge System
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

National Wildlife Refuge System

 

The National Wildlife Refuge System – For Wildlife and People | Understanding Waterfowl Production Areas and Wetland Management Districts | Understanding Grassland and Wetland Easements | The Federal Duck Stamp – Buying Land for Wildlife | Open / Close All

  • Bison calf and cow. Credit: Rich Keen/ RMA.
  • Photo of Sandhill Cranes at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit Mark A. Bauer USGS.
  • Deer and Rocky Mountains. Credit: Rich Keen / RMA
  • The National Elk Refuge's Outdoor Recreation Planner witnessed a spectacular standoff between two juvenile mountain lions and five coyotes. The coyotes let the cats know they weren’t welcome in the area. The mountain lions sought safety on a buck and rail fence for over an hour while the coyotes lurked in the background. Here, one of the coyotes has moved in closer. Notice the flattened positions of the mountain lions. Credit: Lori Iverson / USFWS
  • Photo of a Sharp-Tailed Grouse. Sharp-tailed grouse courtship dancing is a very popular attraction in the spring at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Andy Jewett / USFWS
  • Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Seth Willey / USFWS
  • A group of Canada goose goslings make their way across the visitor center lawn at the National Elk Refuge. USFWS / BJ Baker, National Elk Refuge volunteer
This goose, designed by J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

This goose, designed by J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge at Pelican Island in Florida. Today, more than 100 years later, the National Wildlife Refuge System has greatly expanded to protect a network of habitats from the Alaskan tundra to subtropical wetlands. The lands and waters of the Refuge System benefit wildlife, provide excellent opportunities for visitors to connect with nature, and support a healthy environment.


The National Wildlife Refuge System – For Wildlife and People »

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Photo of a wetland. Credit: USFWS

Wetland. Credit: USFWS.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the more than 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts in the Refuge System provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species, and more than 1,000 species of fish.

Each year, millions of migrating birds use refuges as “stepping stone” habitats as they fly thousands of miles between their summer and winter homes. More than 280 threatened or endangered plants and animals are protected on refuges.

While national wildlife refuges were created to protect wildlife, they are for people too. Refuges are ideal places for people of all ages to connect with and learn about the natural world. Found in every U.S. state and territory, there is at least one refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. We invite you to become one of the more than 45 million people who visit national wildlife refuges every year for wildlife watching, photography, fishing, hunting, and environmental education.

Photo of a wetland. Credit: USFWS

Individuals viewing wildlife. Credit: Scott Ralston / USFWS.

Many refuges offer educational and interpretive programs, nature trails, observation towers, photo blinds, auto tours, and other opportunities to make your visit memorable.

Refuges help support a healthy environment as well. The habitats on refuge lands help stabilize soil, remove pollution from the air, and filter water before it enters the drinking supply. In addition, wetlands on refuges help absorb floodwaters, thereby protecting nearby communities. There are even economic benefits of refuges; recreation on Refuge System lands helps local economies and increases property values of nearby homes.


Understanding Waterfowl Production Areas and Wetland Management Districts »

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  • Waterfowl production area boundry sign. Credit: USFWS.

    Waterfowl production area boundry sign. Credit: USFWS.

  • Aerial view of prairie potholes. Credit: Thomas M. Pabian / USFWS.

    Aerial view of prairie potholes. Credit: Thomas M. Pabian / USFWS.

  • Map of the Prairie Pothole Region. Credit: USFWS.

    Map of the Prairie Pothole Region. Credit: USFWS.

Waterfowl Production Areas

Waterfowl production areas, or WPAs, are little known, but important components of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Like refuges, they protect habitat for wildlife, but the primary purpose of WPAs is to protect wetlands and grasslands for waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans). For that reason, WPAs are located primarily in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America.

Why the Prairie Pothole Region? The Prairie Pothole Region is an area of the northern Great Plains often called the “Duck Factory” of North America. The southern reach of the region is in central Iowa and it extends northwest through Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and into Canada.

Historically, the Prairie Pothole Region included expansive grasslands and thousands of shallow wetlands known as “potholes.” These potholes were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. This mosaic of wetlands and grasslands was ideal for waterfowl because ducks and geese need both grassland and wetland habitats to nest and raise their young.

Through the years, more than half of the wetlands found in the Prairie Pothole Region have been drained for agriculture and development. In response to these losses, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act (commonly known as the Duck Stamp Act) was passed in 1934. This act requires waterfowl hunters to purchase a Duck Stamp. Proceeds from the Duck Stamp go toward the purchase or lease of wetland habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1958, the Duck Stamp Act was amended to create the “Small Wetlands Program.” Under this program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can use Duck Stamp dollars to purchase land – primarily in the Prairie Pothole Region – to protect remaining wetlands and grasslands for breeding waterfowl. The areas purchased through this program are called, appropriately, waterfowl production areas (WPA).

Still, WPAs protect much more than just waterfowl populations. WPAs protect native plants, provide habitat for many resident and migratory wildlife, help filter groundwater, control runoff and flooding, and capture carbon from the atmosphere.


Wetland Management Districts

In 1962, to help effectively manage the growing number of WPAs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created an administrative organization called a wetland management district (district). In addition to actively managing all the WPAs in a multi-county area, district staff also work closely with private landowners, government and nongovernment organizations, business, and other federal agencies to improve wildlife habitat.


Understanding Grassland and Wetland Easements »

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Photo of a prairie. Credit: Rick Bohn / USFWS.

Prairie. Credit: Rick Bohn / USFWS.

In addition to having land in fee title, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service enters into voluntary legal agreements with some private landowners to help conserve grasslands and wetlands. These wetland and grassland easements ensure long-term protection of breeding habitat for waterfowl and other migratory bird species, but easement landowners retain the right to control access to their land, and easements do not affect hunting or mineral rights.

A grassland easement is a legal agreement signed with the United States, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that pays landowners to permanently keep their land in grass. With grassland easements, the land may not be cultivated. Mowing, haying, and grass seed harvesting must be delayed until after July 15 each year. This restriction helps grassland nesting species complete their nesting before the grass is disturbed. Grazing is not restricted in any way.

A wetland easement is a legal agreement signed with the United States, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that pays landowners to not drain, fill, level, or burn a wetland. If a wetland dries up naturally, it can be farmed, grazed, or hayed.

Learn more about grassland and wetland easements.

Photo of a prairie. Credit: Rick Bohn / USFWS.

Prairie. Credit: Rick Bohn / USFWS.

Botner Wetland. Small wetland - In springtime, small wetlands are important habitat for breeding ducks. Credit: USFWS.

Botner Wetland. Small wetland - In springtime, small wetlands are important habitat for breeding ducks. Credit: USFWS.


The Federal Duck Stamp – Buying Land for Wildlife »

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Winner of the 2013 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. Art by South Dakota Artist Adam Grimm - Oil Painting of a Pair of Canvasbacks.

Winner of the 2013 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. Art by South Dakota Artist Adam Grimm - Oil Painting of a Pair of Canvasbacks.

Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps,” are not your typical stamps. They are not valid for postage. Instead, the money from the sale of Duck Stamps is used to buy wetlands and grasslands for waterfowl (ducks and geese) and many other species of birds. Believe it or not, 98 percent of every Duck Stamp purchased goes to protecting wildlife habitat. That’s $14.70 of every $15.00 stamp!

The Duck Stamp Program started in 1934, when Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. This act requires all migratory bird hunters who are 16 years and older to buy and carry a Duck Stamp when they hunt. But other people can buy them too. Stamp collectors, art enthusiasts, and conservationists often choose to buy Duck Stamps. In fact, buying a Duck Stamp is one of the best things you can do to help protect wetland and grassland habitats.


How is the art for Duck Stamps developed?

Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsors a stamp design contest. Wildlife artists from across the nation submit their work for judging by a panel of artists and wildlife experts. The winning art is used on the following year’s stamp.

Learn More About the Duck Stamp.


The Junior Duck Stamp Program

Building on the success of the adult Duck Stamp design contest, the Junior Duck Stamp Program began in 1989. The Junior Duck Stamp program is an arts and science program that teaches kindergarten through 12th grade students about wetland and waterfowl conservation as they develop their artwork.

Each spring, thousands of students from across the country submit their completed artwork for consideration in a state contest. The Best of Show from each state is submitted to the national contest. The winning design from the national contest is used to create the Junior Duck Stamp for the following year.

Learn More About the Junior Duck Stamp.

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: April 08, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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